November 15, 2012
Do we desire political "rulers" or "leaders"?
I meet weekly with a group of students for a non-credit seminar. This semester, we have read and discussed C.S. Lewis' "The Abolition of Man," which has been followed up by De Descriptione Temporum, Lewis' Inaugural Lecture from the Chair of Mediaval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University and delivered in 1954. The whole thing is well worth the read. The one paragraph on politics (which we ended up not discussing) peeked my interest. It reads, in part:
In all previous ages that I can think of the principal aim of rulers, except at rare and short intervals, was to keep their subjects quiet, to forestall or extinguish widespread excitement and persuade people to attend quietly to their several occupations. And on the whole their subjects agreed with them. They even prayed (in words that sound curiously old-fashioned) to be able to live "a peaceable life in all godliness and honesty" and "pass their time in rest and quietness". But now the organisation of mass excitement seems to be almost the normal organ of political power. We live in an age of "appeal if drives", and "campaigns". Our rulers have become like schoolmasters and are always demanding "keenness". And you notice that I am guilty of a slight archaism in calling them "rulers". "Leaders" is the modem word. I have suggested elsewhere that this is a deeply significant change of vocabulary. Our demand upon them has changed no less than theirs on us. For of a ruler one asks justice, incorruption, diligence, perhaps clemency; of a leader, dash, initiative, and (I suppose) what people call "magnetism" or "personality".
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